Before day three of the 2023 NFL draft began, former defensive back Cole Coleman and kicker Skyler Davis — who graduated from Elon in December 2022 — knew that if their names weren't called by the last pick, it wouldn’t have been the end of the line for their football careers. When the draft ended without an Elon player called, they were both still able to secure an opportunity to try out for an NFL team.
Coleman and Davis became the 18th and 19th players, respectively, from Elon University to have the opportunity to compete for a spot with an NFL franchise. Both players spent five years with the Phoenix, where Coleman secured 156 career solo tackles — tying him for fifth in Elon history with Brandon Wiggins — and Davis made seven of eight 50-plus yard field goal attempts in 2022 — the best field goal percentage from that distance in Football Championship Subdivision history. For Davis, he said it's a dream to be a part of his alma mater's history.
“Elon has done so much for me to get me here,” Davis said. “It's just awesome to be a part of history.”
Each player was in contact with NFL teams prior to the conclusion of the draft on Saturday, April 29. The Indianapolis Colts offered Coleman a three-year, $2.695 million contract with a $5,000 signing bonus, but he decided to turn it down.
“At around eight o'clock in the morning, my agent had already been on the phone with the Colts,” Coleman said. “I wasn't ready to accept that offer because I thought that they could have gone higher to express their interest in me.”
As day three progressed, Coleman sat with his phone anxious for a call, but never got one.
“They had eight different picks throughout day three, so it was definitely stressful watching them pick every other guy,” Coleman said.
On Saturday night, Coleman and the Colts agreed to the initial three-year deal with a $7,500 signing bonus. Coleman said he and his family felt secure about the deal because the Colts didn’t select a defensive back in the later rounds of the draft.
“When it came down to it, they decided not to pick my position,” Coleman said. “That gave me some comfort and security in the fact that they believed in me as a player.”
For Davis, his agent had also been in contact with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers days before the draft started. When he saw his phone light up with a notification from his agent on Saturday morning, the tension was lifted off his shoulders.
“I get the text, ‘Hey, the Bucs are a done deal,’” Davis said. “I was actually in the basement playing Rocket League.”
While Coleman signed a contract with the Colts, Davis was offered the opportunity to compete against other rookies for a practice squad roster spot with Tampa Bay. For all camp-deal rookies, like Davis, they will compete in a three-day rookie minicamp, with the best moving on to compete with the full team in main camp. Davis said not receiving a full contract has provided further motivation going into camp.
“I need to be locked in every single day, which I think is going to help me in the long run,” Davis said.
Even with the new environment, Davis’ confidence has stayed sky high.
“It doesn't really matter to me,” Davis said. “It's just kicking the ball.”
As for Coleman, he will make the trip to Indianapolis, to sign his contract and take part in another form of rookie camp later this week, before returning to the team later in the summer for offseason training activities. Unlike Davis, Coleman knows what it looks like to play at the professional level. His dad, Chris Coleman, spent two seasons in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans as a wide receiver from 2000-01. Cole said his father’s guidance has been a true benefit.
“One of the first things I remember is that he taught me how to conduct myself as a professional, whether that be social media or interviews, from a pretty young age,” Cole said. “I kind of knew exactly what to aspire to look like as a professional athlete.”
Chris also worked as a receiver coach for three years at both Lenoir-Rhyne University, where he helped the Bears win two consecutive South Atlantic Conference championships in 2011 and 2012, and Southern University in Louisiana. Cole said that having a former NFL player and collegiate coach as a father figure has given him a leg up on the competition, but also realizes the importance of making his own waves.
“I've taken advantage of the fact that he was a college coach and was able to learn a lot from him in that way,” Cole said. “But at the same time, there's just so many different variables with other guys that even the table in some way shape or form.”
After spending the last five years with Elon, the two former Phoenix established themselves as locker room leaders. Redshirt freshman and running back Jalen Hampton said both Davis and Cole’s leadership made his transition to Elon easier.
“They're very encouraging guys and really good leaders,” Hampton said. “They lead by example.”
Yet, making the jump to the next level, they’ll have to be the ones to find their own footing in the new environment. Cole said it will be a unique challenge, but one he is confident in tackling.
“Going into my sophomore year, I was the most experienced defensive back in that room, but I think it will be relatively seamless because I don't have a problem being able to soak in whatever the older guys have to say,” Cole said. “It shouldn't be too big of an issue for me to learn from some of the veterans that I already respect for being some of the greatest in the game.”
At the same time, Cole brings a lot to the table as a rookie. He ran a 4.37 second 40-yard dash — a time that led all safeties who tried out at the NFL Combine — posted a 39 inch vertical as well as a 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump at North Carolina State's indoor practice facility during his Pro Day March 28. Although his 2022 season was cut to just seven games due to injury, Cole said he hopes to translate his skills and show his knowledge of the game at practice throughout the season.
“I have hyper awareness for the ball and am always looking to make sure that I give my offense a chance as soon as possible,” Cole said. “The football IQ is just knowing the nuances and I think a lot of that comes with the experience that I've had playing football.”
Similarly, Davis finished first in Elon history in points, with 340, as well as field goals made, 69. He also posted a Phoenix best five field goals made in one game against Rhode Island in the 2021 season. Davis said the biggest switch to trying out for a team and potentially playing on Sundays will be the added pressure of each kick.
“In college, once you get that scholarship, once you get the opportunity, you are pretty much set,” Davis said. “Kicking on Sunday, you're putting food on your plate, feeding your family.”
Hampton said both Davis and Cole’s work ethics will carry them to the finish line, and has encouraged the rest of the team to keep working hard.
“It would be a random time day and you’d see Skyler working his kicks or Cole working on his craft,” Hampton said. “I took notes to just keep perfecting my craft. Those guys did and it paid off.”
Cole echoed Hampton and said he hopes this opens up further recognition for small school players.
“I think FCS guys and small school guys are slept on,” Cole said. “To be able to represent and also have a chance to kind of put us on the map, is big to me.”
Both athletes will have to work all summer during training camp to earn a spot on the final 53 man roster when the regular season rolls around Sept. 7.
As the two get ready for the next chapter of their careers, Davis said he is turning the page with his head held high.
“It's fun being the new kid at school,” Davis said.